Verse 1. - The heavens declare the glory of God; literally, the heavens are recounting the glory of God - of El, "the Mighty One" - the God of nature (see Romans 1:20). David is perhaps carrying out his declared intention (Psalm 18:49) of praising God among the heathen," and therefore takes their standpoint - the ground of nature. And the firmament showeth his handywork. (On "the firmament," see Genesis 1:6, 20.) It is the entire atmosphere enveloping the earth, in which the clouds hang and the birds move. Like the starry heavens above, this, too, "showeth," or rather, "proclaimeth," God's handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
Verse 2. - Day unto day uttereth speech; literally, poureth out speech, as water is poured from a fountain. Each day bears its testimony to the next, and so the stream goes on in a flow that is never broken. And night unto night showeth knowledge. Dr. Kay compares St. Paul's statement, that "that which may be known of God" is manifested to man through the creation (Romans 1:19, 20). A certain superiority seems to be assigned to the night, "as though the contemplation of the starry firmament awakened deeper, more spiritual, thoughts than the brightness of day."
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Verse 3. - There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard; rather, there is no speech, there are no words; their voles is not heard; i.e. the speech which they utter is not common speech - it is without sound, without language; no articulate voice is to be heard. (So Ewald, Hup-feld, Perowne, Kay, Hengstenberg, Alexander, and our Revisers.)
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Verse 4. - Their line is gone out through all the earth. It is much disputed what "their line" means. The word used, qav (קַו), means, ordinarily, a "measuring-line" (Ezekiel 47:3: Zechariah 1:16, etc.), whence it comes to have the further sense of a terminus or boundary; that which the measuring-line marks out. It is also thought to have signified an architect's rule; and, hence, anything regulative, as a decree, precept, or law (see Isaiah 28:10). The LXX. translated it in this place by φθόγγος, "a musical sound;" and Dr. Kay supposes "the regulative chord," or "key-note." to be intended. Perhaps "decree" would be in this place the best rendering, since it would suit the "words" (minim) of the second clause. The "decree" of the heavens is one proclaiming the glory of God, and the duty of all men to worship him. And their words to the end of the world. Though they have neither speech nor language, nor any articulate words, yet they have "words" in a certain sense. Millim is said to be used of thoughts just shaping themselves into language, but not yet uttered (Kay). In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun. God has made the heavens the sun's dwelling-place, the place where he passes the day. There is, perhaps, a tacit allusion to the Shechinah, which dwelt in the tabernacle of the congregation:
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
Verse 5. - Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; literally, and he is as a bridegroom. The bridegroom went forth to meet the bride in glorious apparel, and "preceded by a blaze of torch-light" (Kay). The sun's "chamber" is where he passes the night - below the earth; from this he bursts forth at morning in his full glory, scattering the darkness, and lighting up his splendid "tabernacle." And rejoiceth as a strong man-to run a race (comp. Judges 5:31, "As the sun when he goeth forth in his might"). The Prayer-book Version, if less literal, better conveys the spirit of the original.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
Verse 6. - His going forth is from the end of the heaven The poet, like other poets, describes the phenomena as they appear to him. He does not broach any astronomical theory. And his circuit (i.e. his course) unto the ends of it; i.e. he proceeds from one end of the heavens to the other. And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. Many things are hidden from the light of the sun, but nothing from its "heat." which is the vital force whence the whole earth receives life and energy.
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
Verses 7-11. - The transition from the glories of the material universe to the "law of the Lord" is abrupt and startling. Some go so far as to say that there is no connection at all between the first and second parts of the psalm. But it is the law and order that pervades the material universe which constitutes its main glory; and the analogy between God's physical laws and his moral laws is evident, and generally admitted (see the great work of Bishop Butler, part 1.). Verse 7. - The Law of the Lord is perfect. Whatsoever proceeds from God is perfect in its kind; his "Law" especially - the rule of life to his rational creatures. That salvation is not by the Law is not the fault of the Law, but of man, who cannot keep it. "The Law" itself "is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12). Converting (rather, as in the margin, restoring) the soul. The word employed, meshibah, is used of restoring from disorder and decay (Psalm 80:19), from sorrow and affliction (Ruth 4:15), from death (1 Kings 17:21, 22). The Law, by instructing men, restores them from moral blindness to the light which is theirs by nature (Romans 1:19), and, as a further consequence, in many cases, restores them from sin to righteousness. The testimony of the Lord is sure. 'Eduth - the word translated "testimony" - is employed especially of the Decalogue (Exodus 25:16, 21, 22, 26; Numbers 9:15; 17:23; 18:2, etc.); but may be regarded as sue of the many synonyms under which the whole Law may be spoken of (see Psalm 119:2, 14, 22, 24, 88, etc.). The Law is "sure" - i.e. fixed, firm, stable - in comparison with the fleeting, shifting, unstable judgments of human reason. Making wise the simple; i.e. enlightening their moral judgment.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
Verse 8. - The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; rather, the precepts of the Lord are right. Another of the many synonyms under which the Law may be spoken of (see Dr. Kay's preface to the hundred and nineteenth psalm). God's precepts "rejoice the heart" of the godly. They are not felt as stern commands, but as gracious intimations of what God desires man to do for his own good. The commandment of the Lord is pure; i.e. spotless, clean, without fault (comp. ver. 7, "The Law of the Lord is perfect"). Enlightening the eyes; i.e. giving light to the intellect.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
Verse 9. - The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever. Hengstenberg explains "the fear of the Lord" in this place as "the instruction afforded by God for fearing him." And certainly, unless we adopt some such explanation, we shall find it difficult to account for the intrusion of the clause into its present position. The Law, the testimony, the statutes (or precepts), the commandment (vers. 7, 8), and the judgments (ver. 9), are external to man, objective; the fear of the Lord. as commonly understood, is internal, subjective, a "settled habit of his soul." It is not a thing of the same kind with the other five nominatives, and appears out of place among them. Hence it seems best, with Professor Alexander, to adopt Hengstenberg's explanation. The Law, viewed as teaching the fear of God, is undoubtedly "clean " - i.e. pure, perfect - and "endures for ever," or is of perpetual obligation. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. In "judgments" we have another of the recognized synonyms for the entire Law (Psalm 119:7, 13, 43, 52, 62), which is from first to last "exceeding righteous and true" (Psalm 119:138, Prayer-book Version).
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Verse 10. - More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold. (For the difference between "gold" (זהב) and "fine gold" (פז), see the 'Homiletic Commentary on Job,' p. 458.) God's Law is a far greater good to man, and therefore far more to be desired, than any amount of riches; much more must it be preferable to honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
Verse 11. - Moreover by them is thy servant warned. This verse is a sort of connecting link between the second and the third parts of the psalm. Through its subject-matter, which is still the Law of the Lord, it belongs to the second part; but metrically, and by the introduction of the person of the psalmist ("thy servant"), it belongs to the third. David feels that to him it is the crowning excellency of the Law, that it teaches, instructs, or "warns" him. And in keeping of them there is great reward. Not only the reward promised in Exodus 15:26, or "the recompense of the reward" laid up for men in heaven, but a present reward "in the act of keeping them" (Kay). Obedience, like virtue, is its own reward.
Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.
Verses 12-14. - A consideration of the Law cannot but raise the thought of transgression. Man "had not known sin but by the Law" (Romans 7:7), and he cannot contemplate the Law without being reminded of possible disobedience to it. The psalmist's thoughts are led in this direction, and he ends with an earnest prayer against "secret sins" (ver. 12), against "presumptuous sins" (ver. 13), and against sins of word and thought (ver. 14), addressed to "God his Strength [or, 'his Rock'] and his Redeemer." Verse 12. - Who can understand his errors? rather, who can discern (or, perceive) his errors? i.e. all of them. Who will not overlook some, try as he may to search out his heart? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Those which are hidden from me, which I cannot discern.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.
Verse 13. - Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins (comp. Exodus 21:14; Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12). Wilful, intentional, deliberate sins are intended - such as cut off from grace. They are called "presumptuous ones," being "personified as tyrants who strive to bring the servant of God into unbecoming subjection to them" (Hengstenberg). Let them not have dominion over me (comp. Psalm 119:133; Romans 6:14). Then shall I be upright; or, "blameless" (ἄμωμος, LXX.). And I shall be innocent from the great transgression. There is no article in the original. Translate, and innocent of great transgression (see the Revised Version).
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
Verse 14. - Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight. Nor let my doings only be righteous; let the door of my lips be kept, that I utter no evil word, and the recesses of my heart be purged, that I think no evil thought. O Lord, my strength; literally, my Rock (צוּדִי), as in Psalm 18:1. And my Redeemer (comp. Psalm 78:35; and see Genesis 48:16; Exodus 15:13; Leviticus 25:48; Ruth 4:4; Job 19:25; Isaiah 63:9). As applied to God, the word "Redeemer" (גואֵל) always means a "Deliverer" from sin, or death, or danger.